Springbok reality hit home for Sharks star Aphelele Fassi

Sharks fullback Aphelele Fassi didn’t think it was the end of the road for him after being left out by the Springboks. Photo: BackpagePix

Sharks fullback Aphelele Fassi didn’t think it was the end of the road for him after being left out by the Springboks. Photo: BackpagePix

Published Jun 16, 2024


He never became despondent after being dropped from the Springboks, and knew he had to go back to work on some things in his rugby to reach the peak of the sport again.

That is exactly what Aphelele Fassi did when he returned to the Sharks after his Bok debut in 2021, and subsequently lost his spot after only three Tests.

But, he regained that form that made him a national player three years ago, and feels ready to kick on after getting this second chance.

The Boks will start their Test season against Wales next Saturday at Twickenham (3pm SA time start), and the London duel could see the Sharks star make his long-awaited return to the side.

After this international, a two-match series at home against World No 2 Ireland awaits the world champions.

Sharks fullback Fassi has been one of the outstanding players for the coastal side this season, even though they had their struggles in the United Rugby Championship.

He played a big role in helping the side win the Challenge Cup, making history as the first South African team to win a European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) tournament.

According to Fassi, he didn’t think it was the end of the road for him after being left out by the Boks shortly after his debut, but it was an opportunity to sharpen up on some things in his game.

“I think when reality hit with me going back to club level, I just knew that there were certain things I had to work on,” he said this week after his return to the Springbok fold.

“I just went back to my club and spoke to my coaches, and decided that the things that I’ve been told are the things that I need to work on. The focus wasn’t just only on my weaknesses, but also on my strengths as well.”

He added that playing with more confidence has helped him immensely this season, and the fact that he finished the club season without any injuries – something that has plagued him in the past.

The 26-year-old described being injury-free as probably the biggest thing that contributed to his stellar season.

“Playing two games, three games, five games, you kind of build a bit of confidence in yourself,” Fassi said.

“In the past, it’s playing five games, getting injured, then you’re out for three months, coming back (and) playing two games (then) getting injured, and another three months you’re out.

“You know, there’s no consistency in your game and everything, so I think just being able to be consistent and staying injury-free (helped). Doubt obviously does creep into yourself, and that’s how you lose confidence in yourself.

“Having a good family behind me and a support system at the Sharks like the coaching staff, and the players, tends to lift you and make you start believing in yourself as well. When I got that support, my mindset just automatically changed.”

Fassie played all three Tests at wing and not in his preferred fullback position.

And for the Roc Nation athlete, it doesn’t matter where he is thrown in – it can even be at lock – he will do what the team requires of him, whether it’s at the Boks or Sharks.

He has high praise for defence coach Joey Mongalo at the Sharks, who has been one of the mentors that got his rugby back on track when he returned to the franchise.

“Yeah, Joe has been massive obviously. We work on different things every day. It could be defence, could be kicking,” Fassi said.

“At the beginning of the season, we set out a plan, and we try to execute that plan every day. So yeah, he’s been massive in building my confidence in both departments of the game.”

Fassi is looking forward to the influence of new coaches Jerry Flannery and Tony Brown on the Springboks’ game.

He says there are already some plans being worked out, but not a lot will change within the set-up.

He added that they are all gunning to put their hands up for a spot in the Boks’ first match of the year against the Red Dragons.

“Obviously, rugby is a very competitive sport. I think everyone is just willing to work hard until we play Wales, and then come back to camp again and work hard for that two-game series against Ireland,” Fassi said.

“Anyone picked for the team is willing to die for the badge and our country when we play Ireland. But there is not a lot of talk about the Irish just yet.”

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